March 3, 2014 by John Crapper
I like analogies. They help me clarify my thoughts. When I was a teacher in Middle School at an International School in Bangkok, Thailand one movie we used in our instruction across the curriculum (math, science, social studies) was the Titanic. It got me thinking it might be an appropriate construct to use in the case of the upcoming decision by President Obama on the Keystone Pipeline.
Imagine mankind on a gigantic cruise ship called the “Lifestyle Titanic” on an excursion called “Discover Energy” sailing on the “Earth Ocean”. It is cruising at maximum speed. Passengers are berthed at all levels of accommodation. Some are in luxury, living it up in opulence, consuming and partying with abandon while others are toiling below deck struggling to survive.
The ship has been marketed as being unsinkable and passengers are constantly being assured of their safety.
The ship is equipped with the latest technology which is constantly being improved and updated. Special attention is given to the Energy Global Positioning System (EGPS) since fuel for the ship is critical for the continuance of both its voyage and ability to provide the lifestyle the passengers have become accustomed to living. It has been designed to run almost completely in auto pilot mode. All that is required is the plugging in of destinations and the ship will pretty much self-navigate to the desired ports of call.
The other major navigational system is the Storm Detection Radar System (SDRS) designed to spot storms on the horizon giving the captain time to set a new course if necessary. Up to this point the system has done a fairly good job of providing ample warning.
But lately scientists and engineers have been sending out a Climate Change SOS and advising there might be a flaw in the SDRS system. They have found evidence indicating a different kind of storm brewing and strengthening “under the radar”. Because this storm is not of a localized nature, able to be pinpointed to one specific local or weather system, it is not being picked up by the system.
The emerging storm has been called different names such as global warming and climate change but it basically refers to climate disruptions happening with ever increasing frequency and intensity. What really baffles the captain is their assertion that it is the cruise itself that is causing this storm to form.
One such caution was uttered back in May, 2012 by James Hanson a recognized expert on the building “Climate Disruption Storm”. He said the following about the upcoming decision to route the ship to a port of call at Keystone to hook up to a pipe carrying tar sands from Canada to Texas.
“If Canada proceeds, and we do nothing, it will be game over for the climate.
Canada’s tar sands, deposits of sand saturated with bitumen, contain twice the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by global oil use in our entire history. If we were to fully exploit this new oil source, and continue to burn our conventional oil, gas and coal supplies, concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere eventually would reach levels higher than in the Pliocene era, more than 2.5 million years ago, when sea level was at least 50 feet higher than it is now. That level of heat-trapping gases would assure that the disintegration of the ice sheets would accelerate out of control. Sea levels would rise and destroy coastal cities. Global temperatures would become intolerable. Twenty to 50 percent of the planet’s species would be driven to extinction. Civilization would be at risk.”
Back then Mr. Hanson warned the captain there would be drought in the West as an early indicator of this building storm.
And, low and behold, the captain just read an article appearing in Bloomberg February 3, 2014
“Cities and institutions across California are resorting to exceptional measures to deal with a worsening drought, from mandatory water restrictions in beachside Santa Cruz to voluntary cutbacks in Los Angeles.”
What was troubling the captain was that Keystone was the next destination he was being asked to plug into the Energy Global Positioning System (EGPS).
Environmentalists from multiple arenas had been shouting at him for quite some time from the top of their lungs, “Stop digging up more fossil fuel. Stop investing in more fossil fuelish projects. Stop building the infrastructure to accelerate access to fossil fuel deposits in ever more remote and difficult places. Stop the insanity.” They had been shooting lines from their tugboats attempting to tether to the ship and nudge it on a different course.
But the captain had his misgivings about all of these warnings and had been, up to this point, largely ignoring them. He said to himself, “This large storm on the horizon is off in the distant future. I must pay attention to the multiple immediate storms threatening the ship. That is what my operations manual instructs me to do.”
Besides his co-captains of industry had been constantly offering him their assurances that all was under control. “Every risk has properly been planned for to avoid any calamity. Don’t listen to these environmental outcasts. These spoilers are just trying to pour water on the party. They are always raining on everybody’s parade. Trust your business buddies and don’t pay any attention to their wolf cries foretelling of impending disaster. Rely on your fellow co-captains of industry for the truth. Keep the “Lifestyle Titanic” on course and traveling at full speed. It is the economy that is of paramount importance and to keep the consumptive juggernaut chugging away at top speed we need growth, jobs and most of all more fuel to keep the engines of capitalism churning ever faster and at greater volume. And the only place we can get the quantity of fuel necessary to keep things on course is from fossil sources.”
“The ship is unsinkable.”, assures head design engineer. “Full speed ahead. No reason to worry about any hazards. There is no reason to fret about the small number of lifeboats on board. They are only there for show and meant only to offer symbolic comfort and assurance to those on board. They will never be needed, rest assured of that.”
“We must insist you plug in the proper coordinates and set this ship on a course destined for multiple fossil fuel energy destinations.”, implored almost all his co-captains.
“We have plans to extract increased amounts of coal. We envision a
“coal train corridor…from mines in Montana and Wyoming through Sandpoint, Idaho to Spokane, down through the Columbia River Gorge, then up along the Puget Sound coast, passing through Longview, Tacoma, Seattle, Edmonds, Everett, Mt. Vernon, Bellingham, Ferndale and all points in between.”
“We have plans to increase production of natural gas through our state of the art technology called hydraulic fracturing. Rest assured, even though our formula we inject into the ground to free the natural gas is a corporate secret, it is 100% safe and will not contaminate the water supply.”
“We have plans to drill in the Arctic, in our wildlife preserves, and in our national parks. Rest assured sir, we will protect the natural beauty and wildlife of these places. It’s only the energy we are after.”
But of paramount concern to us right now is your approval of the Keystone destination. It is the key to our future. This needs to be our next port of call. To allow our “Discover Energy Cruise” to continue without interruption, to allow our passengers to continue to live in the lifestyle they have become accustomed and to allow the ship to continue its journey at full speed we need you to plug in these coordinates and set us on a course for this destination now. Further delay will spell problems.”
“Your State Department has just released a study that verifies the Keystone Pipeline destination will not speed up the so called climate storm forming in Earth Ocean. Besides, may we remind you that we still refute and deny any such storm is even forming. And you know we certainly have no reason whatsoever to lead you astray on this one. We are, after all, your co-captains in this venture.”
The captain had largely in the past taken the advice of his co-captains. But this time he had a gnawing feeling something wasn’t right. There had been more frequent and powerful hurricanes lately. High temperature records seemed to be more frequent and widespread of late.
His passengers had also been suffering the consequences. The level of overall disgruntlement and discontent was increasing on the ship.
Part of the source of discontent was coming from recent serious malfunctions in the air filtration system.
Another source of discontent was coming from water problems being discovered associated with fracking leading to both contamination and shortage worries.
Some passengers were actually disembarking from the ship and transferring to newer, cleaner smaller ones now being increasingly viewed as viable alternatives to the Lifestyle Titanic Cruise. They offered a cleaner, smoother ride to more interesting destinations and the promise of a never-ending source of cruising power. This drain on Lifestyle sales was just starting to show up on the balance sheet. He didn’t want to be blindsided by the emerging competition.
Most petty officers were advising plotting a different course for the ship, too. They counseled setting course more often to some of the same destinations these smaller ships were regularly visiting such as solar power, hydroelectric power, and wind power. They wanted the captain to start reducing the frequency and duration of visits to the fossil fuel locations.
But all of this required a slowing of the vessel and a lowering of lifestyle of passengers on board. It risked offending the delicate egos of his highest ranking officers.
He was torn and debating within himself which way to proceed. He knew it was a momentous moment. Whichever way he decided it would result in a titanic shift in the ships direction and destinations.
He decided to seek council from a wide range of sources including the passengers. He wanted to deflect and share the burden of this decision.
He hoped, regardless of the outcome, it would be expressed loudly and clearly. He wanted a clear mandate to point at when announcing his decision. If his passengers voices were loud and clear they would force his hand.
He anxiously awaited its outcome.
I have read lots of comments in the press and on this site stating that President Obama’s decision on the Keystone Pipeline is merely symbolic; that it will not make a difference in the grand scheme of things.
I disagree. I think it represents a “Titanic Shift” in direction that, if disapproved, could signal a dramatic course correction for the cruise ship “Lifestyle Titanic” on its excursion “Discover Energy”.
How it’s decided will signal our energy course going forward and determine just how deeply we’ll sail into the “Climate Disruption Storm” of which we are now hitting the outer edges.
Let’s send a clarion call! No KXL
A 30-day public comment period began on February 5, 2014 and will close on March 7, 2014. During this period, members of the public and other interested parties are encouraged to submit comments on the national interest determination to http://www.regulations.gov. Comments are not private and will be made public.
Comments may also be mailed directly to:
U.S. Department of State
Bureau of Energy Resources, Room 4843
Attn: Keystone XL Public Comments
2201 C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20520